Smithsonian Museums Celebrate Day of the Dead

Smithsonian Latino Center, National Museum of American History and National Museum of the American Indian Celebrate Popular Mexican Holiday
October 31, 2014
News Release

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Visitors to the National Mall and New York can participate and learn more about the popular Mexican holiday known as Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead this week. This well-known festival is celebrated throughout Mexico, parts of Central and South America and increasingly throughout the United States. People mark the occasion by creating altars that display portraits, favorite books and special possessions of their loved ones. Outside of the home, families visit graves, bringing food and music and decorating the headstones with flowers.

This year, the Smithsonian Latino Center, National Museum of American History and National Museum of the American Indian are presenting a series of programs and activities as part of this popular holiday. From Oct. 31 through Jan. 12, 2015, visitors to the American History Museum can view the exhibition “A Room of Her Own: An Altar for My Mother,” by author and artist Sandra Cisneros. The exhibit, or ofrenda (altar), is dedicated to Cisneros’ deceased mother Elvira Cordero Cisneros and incorporates objects from her bedroom, including books and the painted bedframe at the center of the altar. Other elements include tapestries, hand-painted Mexican boxes, embroidery photos, a doll, candles, sweets and flowers to reflect her mother’s love for gardening. The exhibition will be on view in the museum’s “American Stories” gallery on the second floor through Jan. 12, 2015.

On Nov. 1–2, the American Indian Museum will present its annual “Day of the Dead” festival in Washington from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each day. Activities will include artist demonstrations, hands-on activities, dance performances, a film, an artist talk by Cisneros on Saturday, gallery tours and culinary offerings from the museum’s Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe. The celebration will also take place in New York at the George Gustav Heye Center from noon to 5 p.m. Nov. 1. The festival will feature hands-on activities for adults and children, take-home crafts, demonstrations, films and dancer performances that reflect traditions associated with this holiday.

In addition to events at the American History and American Indian museums, the Smithsonian Latino Center is celebrating Day of the Dead in its Latino Virtual Museum through Nov. 2. The online celebration includes poetry readings, a film festival, the playing of an ancient Mesoamerican ball game, a costume contest, the creation of a community altar and webcasts of Cisneros’ altar installation at the American History Museum. 

This year’s Day of the Dead celebration at the Smithsonian received substantial support from AARP. Additional support for the Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum Day of the Dead festival was provided by Target and the Walt Disney Co.

The Smithsonian Latino Center ensures Latino contributions to arts, sciences and the humanities are highlighted, understood and advanced through the development and support of public programs, scholarly research, museum collections and educational opportunities at the Smithsonian Institution and its affiliated organizations across the U.S. For more information about the Latino Center and all of its Day of the Dead programs, visit


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